Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hark the Heralds or Singing the Global Interconnected

Here we are in the season of light, remembering a higher calling that draws us together. Last night we went over to our friends the Gages and I played along with Greg and Steve as part of their folk project, quite an honor. Something about music and collaborative creation that uses a part of the brain we never learned to use in school. That's the new dynamic of course that is celebrated on the Internet and is bursting forth new forms of expression that are impacting everything we do from education to commerce to global governance. We are moving from a pioneer species to a climax species and are learning to thrive via cooperation rather than competition, but that still threatens the powers that be. Wikileaks may be ahead of its time in its basically aggressive stance vis a vis government secrecy. But there is a basic friction between old school business and the new paradigm of rampant, fast-moving information sharing that is dependent on transparency. Julian Assange will be remembered for casting the first stone in this battle.
Yes, there are benefits to secrecy and traditional diplomacy, but the failure in my entire lifetime so far to secure a peace deal in the Middle East makes a mockery of diplomacy's claims. Justice is powerless in the shadows. I think that's the lesson that Wikileaks will try to teach us. And here last week the US Congress passed a resolution condemning the Palestinians for threatening to declare statehood unilaterally in the face of Israeli intransigence on the settlements. It seems that in this season of lights the powerless continue to face obliteration. Money talks. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Dark Knight of the Moment

We need a Dark Knight moment in this country. I'm talking about my favorite scene in the Batman movie in which the black prisoner tears the detonator out of the warden's hands and throws it out of the window of the Staten Island ferry, thus averting the horrible intended outcome of the Joker's "social experiment", in which the passengers on two ferries can save themselves by blowing up the other boat. "I'm doing what you should a done ten minutes ago," he says to the Warden.
We are like those two ferries right now, red and blue camps, ideologically unable to avert the mutual destruction we seem to be inflicting on ourselves, at the mercy of some unknown joker power who seems to have robbed us of common sense and common decency. The truth of how low we have sunk is reflected in the tax debate in Washington and the corollary impact of denying an extension of unemployment benefits to the long term jobless in this season.
Here's my favorite Dark Knight of the moment. Any resemblance to the Joker is purely ironic. Al Franken and his Minnesota common sense cuts to the chase in these Senate floor musings. Some may call it political theater, but sometimes theatrics speak to the broader picture.

I guess we need two parties - the dialectic of left vs. right is what advances the common cause - and like the man said about democracy - it's the worst form of government except all the others, ( Winston Churchill). But it's downright embarrassing, disgraceful, unbelievable, what word would cover this? that we've elected these people who are prepared to go to the wall to preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest among us in a time of economic distress for the weakest among us. As Al said, what are we doing here? For me, it's unacceptable. I'm ready, like the prisoner in Batman, to say, look take my tax cuts and cancel them, too.  Out the window with the detonator of this horrible social experiment in which everyone loses.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Snow New Hampshire

Yesterday I was out cutting wood with my new electric chain saw when we got the first snow. The black clouds whipped overhead and the cover blew off the chicken house and the flurry drove down from that middle distance in the northwest sky.
The chain saw was working well, just as well as the gas-powered saws which have bedeviled me through the years. The guys at the saw shop always blame the ethanol in the gasoline. I finally decided to try an electric chain saw and so far so good. It runs quietly, dependably, and I can cut it off and rearrange the logs without fear that it will flood when I go to crank it up again. Internal combustion is on the way out, I hope, and not a moment too soon.
Last night the lights were on at the Peak. They have been for about a week; with cold enough nights to power up the snow-blowing guns, they've been busy, running the shifts of groomers from dusk to dawn. It looks like winter is here. What would the ski resorts do without snow-making? They are increasingly reliant on it to get in a full season of skiing. Life goes on, and it is good, without a doubt.
But anybody that has any doubts about the seriousness of the global warming threat ahead of our children should read the latest NY Times story on the melting of the Arctic. It is an even-handed, sober, scientific appraisal of the adaptations we will have to make to sea levels rising by the end of this century. Goodbye coastlines, in all probability. Futuristic scare tactics on the part of evil scientists intent on illicit fund-raising it is not. A reality check and a sober reminder of how derelict we have been, is what it is. Meanwhile, Obama is playing hoops. Good for him. Nero had a fiddle. We can always build seawalls around Manhattan to protect Wall Street and on the outer banks of the Chesapeake Delta to save that White House basketball court, but what about Bangladesh and Cairo and Indonesia? Those people will be relocating to a shelter near you Jim Boehner, and you, Sarah Palin, won't be seeing Russia from your kitchen because it's going to be under water.
Someone should declare this coming year, 2011, the year of climate change awareness. Maybe I will. People in Washington will be too busy doing the important things, like making sure they win reelection in two years, never mind the long view. That democracy thing, the free market? Doesn't seem to be working for us, I'm afraid. I love what George Carlin used to say about choices. We have two thousand brands of interchangeable toilet paper, but politics? We'll be looking and listening to Tweedle-Dumb and Tweedle-Dee, with only a short time to turn things around and get carbon in the atmosphere down to manageable levels.  On all fronts we could use some immediate action, from the cars we drive to the homes we build and live in to the electricity we rely on to run civilization. We'll be lucky if we get anything but more hot air from our leaders in the foreseeable future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The End of Ordinary Time

It's the end of Ordinary time as we enter the season of Advent. The liturgical calendar mirrors a seasonal truth, as the last of the fall gives way to the deeper mysteries and introspection of winter time. By focusing on the calendar and its meaning, it's easier to escape the despair of wondering where it is all pointing, which for everyone is death. We all have a healthy dose of neurotic ganglia firing away at the base of our brains, a clock ticking away, instilled by our genes, our parents and by life experience. And the urgency in some becomes a full blown life crisis, when the realization is lost that there is a deeper meaning to the days.
Markets are driven by the ordinary neurosis and fear of masses of people acting as a herd, running from death. Then nations declare bankruptcy, unable to pay for the long party years of the boom when the bubble finally bursts. Who gets left holding the bag? Not the robber barons who fed the orgy of bad loans and junk bonds. The old, the infirm, the unemployed, people at the bottom of the pile are the ones who get hurt when governments decide to shut down services.  
Certainly if the Republicans get their way there will be cuts. Perhaps it's inevitable, but it's not fair. And the irony is that experts say cuts in spending will not be enough to reduce the deficit if the economy fails to recover. Yes, we should pay as we go. I agree with the Tea Party on that.  Call me a Clintonian deficit hawk, but at this point our roof is leaking and we need to pay to get it fixed to avoid worse rot down the road. Let's see if the Republicans will be intelligent and humane or will they stand on their principles and pay the price at the next election. It is amazing how they seem to be prepared to shut down all good governance, including foreign treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation agreement with Russia, in the hopes of winning at the next election. I think despondency on the part of progressives is uncalled for, particularly when you look at the demographics of the last vote, old, rich and white. Democrats need to stop despairing and get Obama on message starting now. Yes, a remake of the message is needed, but not a cave-in on the main points. What are the main points? I don't honestly know. For me, right now it's about giving thanks to God and concentrating on the deeper meaning in the days. Maybe that's what goes for our country, too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Recession - Coming to Our Senses

Much has been written about the whipsawed American public, veering sharply in election cycles between left and right with no apparent logic except an angry need to punish those in power. But this might be an illusion, and clarity could come with the shift in perspective afforded by time. One possible link is the salutary effect that hardship brings. You could say that both Obama's election victory and the right-wing landslide of the recent midterms are both an expression of the desire of the Amerian people for a return to sanity, a revolt against the excesses and extravagances of the Gilded Age of the last twenty years that has produced such frightening economic and social results.
When the bubbles burst in the technology and housing markets, and there was nothing left to prop up the illusion of American exceptionalism, there was only one thing to do - go back to the basics. You could see this around here when people started giving guilty looks at the gasoline stations as they filled up their Suburbans, burnt up not only by the amount of money they were paying for gas, but also by the air of social opprobrium which had reached a critical mass. You can see it today by the trend towards smaller houses, with last year being the first in ten years that average sizes shrank. You can see it in the hankering for fiscal responsibility on the part of government, a desire to move away from the pork barrel spending that characterized our democracy. As long as the grease was there, everyone was happy, but now, with the piper in sight, we need to see what else binds us together besides government largesse and cheap Walmart goods. It's true that by standing against the stimulus package and government spending, Republicans risk exacerbating the economy, but in some holistic, old-fashioned medicine kind of way, maybe that's what we need, a long period of hardship to harden us again and set us back on the right path.
And we could stand to lose some weight, as could the rest of the world hurrying to catch up to us in creature comforts and easy-living lifestyles, apparently.  The economic costs of obesity related ailments in the United States alone are now the equivalent of a recessionary dip every year, $150 billion. Will the recession start to turn this around? Doubtful, unless we make it a policy to make healthy food affordable. As it is, junk in, pounds on, and everyone is happy. The good stuff, nutrient dense and chemical free, is only available in the kind of trendy markets that most people can't shop at for reasons of pocketbook and transportation access. Just another symptom of the lunacy brought about in the age of runaway growth.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An empty, wind-swept beach, a yellow kite dipping and spiraling above the breakers, soccer ball kicking down the sand, the kids running on the tidal flats, their distant yells barely audible above the surf. The deal today was we were going to do something together as a family. It takes awhile, but eventually something clicks and everyone is pulling together. Taken up by the wind, the immensity of sky and ocean, the personality distinctions melt away and it's just fun. Family dynamics are kind of like water, finding their level. An empty, windy beach is a good place to do the trick.
Yesterday was busy, running up to the farm in the Quaker district with Michael, piling bales twenty at a time in the trailer, multiple trips, stacking them neatly in the sheep barn at home.
Live for today, all the books will say so.
The two elderly brothers in the door of the old barn, hundreds of bales in the dark cavernous space behind them, handing them down to us in the trailer, their eyes still bright despite the years, looking out at the 600 acres of fields and woods, typical New Hampshire operation with the maple sugar lines along the road and elk in the corral, diversifying. It makes you resolve to something, the flickering light in their eyes and the crinkly, leathery smiles. Don't know what, but something. Some day it's going to click and flow like water, effortless.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Afraid or Not Here it Comes

With America's best minds warning of the impact of the Republican wave, maybe we ought to be afraid, but I guarantee you nobody is, not even on Halloween. As Jon Stewart pointed out in his Rally for Sanity, Americans know how to work together, even if the political system is essentially and perhaps irretrievably broken.
That's why I was surprised at Paul Krugman for finishing off his latest editorial with the dire warning. "Be afraid. Be very afraid." He predicts, based on recent comments by Republican leader Mitch McConnell, that the next years will bring even worse impasse and economic misery as the Republicans aim to wrest control of the White House with a damn the torpedoes policy on any legislative progress dealing with our fundamental problems. It could be that this is the calculation Republicans will make. After all, they must ask themselves, which of the two parties seems to benefit the most from a hinterland of disaffected, ignorant and angry Americans, prone to manipulation and fear-mongering?
But I don't think they will, and that is because of the most important rule of American politics: the economy, stupid, to paraphrase James Carville. If we continue to tank or even stagnate in terms of middle class incomes and expectations, the GOP will have to share at least a portion of the blame in the following electoral cycle. They would be slitting their own throats to continue to play the obstructionist game for the next two years with a majority in any of the two legislative chambers.
There are ideological impasses that recent history teaches us will be impossible for the Republicans in power to overcome, such as what to do with our energy policy. But even here the beauty of our system, with its many layered checks and balances, comes to light. In the absence of any federal action, states are already banding together into regional alliances, some of them cutting across national boundaries, such as the Northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to pledge measures to cut carbon emissions and increase the impact of energy efficiency and renewables. The infrastructure investments set up by the stimulus bill will continue to play out over the next two years, even with their relatively limited impact, providing the seeds of new manufacturing and business growth, enough to get us off our backsides and working again. And, sure, Republicans and Democrats will clash on how to improve the educational system and basic infrastructure, but nobody will argue for a hands off approach here, except the most rabidly libertarian Tea Party types.
Krugman is a Nobel laureate, and knows more than anybody of the inner workings of the American economy, but I think he is resorting to unnecessary fear-mongering. After all, most Americans are just trying to do the right thing, and if it seems that their priority is voting Republican in order to put a dent in our deficit because they've chosen to be amnesiac about the recent past, well the next time around they might follow another byzantine path to make a different choice that favors the left and its agenda. That's the crazy way we set things up and it's worked this long. There is a natural corrective mechanism. It's called the vote. No reason to fear, in my humble opinion.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Riding to Nancy Pelosi's Rescue

With a little over a week until these next elections, I've been hyped and scared to death by party activists predicting the end of civilization as we know it unless they make their fundraising deadlines by midnight tonight. I know this is going to sound heretical, but the horse race has lost its appeal to me. The prospects of real change taking place in our nation's capital just seem to have little or nothing to do with who controls the legislative chambers. If Obama, elected with 53 percent of the popular vote and controlling both chambers of Congress was powerless to enact measures on some of his cherished campaign issues, and was left bloodied and bowed by the marathon health reform bill, what will the next two years bring that's any different if the Democrats manage to hold onto their majorities, which seems unlikely at this point? The truth is the Democrats are ineffective at moving progressive reforms because the party is divided, and a sizeable chunk of the Democrats in the House are Southern conservatives who vote with the Republicans nine times out of ten. Sometimes I think the best thing that could happen is the Republicans getting control of one or both chambers and then being forced to work with Obama in a governing coalition to actually pass some legislation dealing with our problems. I predict we would see a lot less climate change denial, obstructionism on financial sector reform and unwillingness to live with most of the health care package, and instead a willingness to craft some compromises on the issues if the Republicans came to power. I can't believe they would be irresponsible enough to be beholden to the more extreme fringes of their Tea Party base.
On the other hand, wouldn't it be great to believe in the change again? Never mind the record of corruption, the control exerted by the financial sector on both parties. If the Dems could hold the line and find a way to get around the filibuster, might we finally get some climate change legislation? I'm not even talking cap and trade anymore, but some significant renewable portfolio standards on the federal level, some subsidies for research, high voltage transmission lines and mass transit, would go a long way with restoring my faith in our ability to control our destiny. If only our democracy were less messy. But that would be Scandinavia and boring. So I'll be making phone calls to get out the vote next weekend and might even dip into the credit card again before midnight. Hold on there, Nancy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

George Will Takes a Cheap Shot Again

They saw the whites of our eyes and fired the first shot, as we knew they would. And it's not surprising that the sniper of choice was the professor, the amiable and shuffling George Will, who is to public opinion what the aw, shucks faux folksiness of Ronald Reagan was to politics: poison.
When Bill McKibben's entourage, bearing the Jimmy Carter solar panels that had been archived at Unity College in Maine, was rebuffed at the White House earlier this fall, one could easily see the political calculus that was driving Obama's staff. Carter, in the public's mind, is the icon for bumbling, ineffective do-goodism, and his calls for energy conservation, turning down our thermostats and wearing cardigan sweaters, along with the clunky White House solar panels, still function as a hound dog whistle call to the right. Ronald Reagan was applauded for taking them down as a disgusting leftist aberration. So no solar panels on the White House roof as of yet, said Barack. But then, veering back to the liberal base once McKibben had safely retreated back to New England and out of the headlines in the convoy of VW vans, our President announced he would indeed install solar panels on the White House as a symbol of the green energy and green jobs revolution that he has touted since day one as the top priority of his administration.
In his Washington Post column today, Will spoofs the move as a sign of the return of 1970s' nanny state over-reach, like the 55 mph speed limit, that led to public revulsion and the rise of the new Republican party under Ronald Reagan. He is right, of course, there is a similar backlash going on today. No-one could question the reality of what George Soros has called the "avalanche" of right-wing American anger, however misguided and ignorant of causes, at the health care reform bill and the stimulus package. But he is wrong to believe that the impulse to reform lies in some noblesse oblige desire to beautify the American way of life. There is genuine suffering when 40 million Americans are forced to go without health care, not to mention the economic distress it causes. There is surely a genuine need to wean ourselves from foreign oil, as even George Bush acknowledged. These are not liberal delusions, these are issues that need to be addressed, and a deregulatory, laissez faire approach to government intervention in the public sectors leaves us without a choice - witness the financial sector meltdown. It is too easy, not to mention satisfying to the ego, to rely on George Will's kind of ideological purity. It is the ideology of money, the Reaganite fixation on the bottom line as the only true metric. It is the ideology behind the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision, which conflates citizens with corporations when it extends to these the rights of free speech and has unleashed a barrage of shadowy advertising on this latest midterm election. If this corruption is triumphant in our body politic, it will also lead to a backlash of cleansing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Toxic Sludge Floods the Truth

A wall of toxic sludge bursts down your streets, flooding homes and killing with its chemical stew of industrial waste. Another B movie plot warning of the perils of pollution? No, just another nightmare scenario from the pages of yesterday's newspapers. The sludge, which burst from its aluminum plant reservoir in Hungary on Monday, overtaking seven villages and flooding 40 square kilometers, is now threatening Europe's Danube River, according to officials. Cleanup will take at least a year. 
The Danube, one of the jewels of the Old World, has a name "from Celtic (Gaulish). It is one of a number of river names derived from a Indo-European word *dānu, apparently a term for "river", but possibly also of a primeval cosmic river, and of a river goddess (see Danu (Asura)), perhaps from a root *dā "to flow/wift, rapid, violent, undisciplined," according to Wikipedia.
Yet another massive slap to the face of our mother planet. We seem to be administering these on a monthly basis. The almost instinctual need for governments to cover-up from ourselves the awful consequences of our collective irresponsibility is a sign of the great shame we are under, but of course also only perpetuates it and brings greater problems to those in power. The Obama administration has not escaped this curse of authority, as reports from independent government investigators show that initial communication about the Gulf oil spill deliberately underplayed the worst case scenarios. Let us hope that European officials can hold themselves to a higher standard. The ten nations that share the Danube River watershed will presumably be on the lookout for hogwash concerning the fate of the sludge.
In the meantime, back in the US, so many people are fed up with the broken state of the political system and the harried lifestyle bred by America's love affair with laissez faire capitalism, that they are ready to vote anyone in power out of office, simply as a protest. Polling experts now are thinking that the pattern in the last several midterm elections of the incumbent party losing seats has little to do with the issues and more to do with a general sense of dissatisfaction with the state of the country. Voters just want to "throw the bums out" no matter what they say they stand for. Many are looking for a third party to speak truth to the voters and break the Washington gridlock that they see as threatening our global preeminence, much like the Roman Empire was undermined by its inability to reform. Call me a cynic, but we've been down that road before with Ralph and got nowhere. Truth is not enough. There has to be a sea-change.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Fall is here -- translated that means increased highway traffic on weekends for the foliage, crisp, cool nights and still warm days, and fall sports. For me that means soccer. Between coaching my son's eighth grade team and ferrying my third grade daughter to her games, I am a busy soccer Dad. But I love it. Sports are an escape into a time and space separate from the concerns of the everyday - green, mythic fields ruled by the eternal verities that we like to believe translate into moral character: hard work, hustle, the ability and desire to rise to meet challenges, bravery.
I never played soccer. I was a decent miler and half miler in high school and played winger on my college rugby team, but I fell in love with soccer as a twenty two year old assigned to cover the U-17 World Cup in Acapulco, my first year working for the old UPI. The athleticism, the combination of technical skill and sheer improvisation, and the constant pace won me over. When we moved back to the States, the presence of a strong youth soccer tradition was something that made me feel good in the midst of the Bush years and the rightward drift of the country. I was right in my hunch that my kids, at least the first two, would enjoy the sense of accomplishment and competition. Michael is turning into a solid and selfless midfielder, and Eve has become the revelation of the season, with dribbling skills and a knack for making beeline, cutting dashes for the goal from anywhere, the ball seemingly glued to her feet.
Sometimes I am one of those parents that has to force himself to take a step back, to reengage with the reality that life is not about soccer, that it's just a game, one of the many pastimes and entertainments available to us in our media-soaked global village. But I am grateful for it and look forward to the fall and my escape into a simpler time and space.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lies, Photos and Dead Fish

Putting the lie to claims the oil spill is over with no ill effects, this photo of a massive fish kill in the bayou outside New Orleans was released by a Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana resident to the media on the same day BP claimed the leaking well had finally been capped. In the age of the Internet, the news has spread far and wide. Fisheries experts claim the die-off is due to low oxygen levels, just the effect predicted by scientists, the outcome of exploding populations of oil-eating microbes in the presence of all the oil that BP and the clean-up crews never found. What makes this die-off noteworthy is that it is spread across a wide range of fish species, not just the usual one or two.

In an eerily parallel story, experts from the National Bureau of Economic Research declared today that the recession officially ended in June. We need no photograph to tell us how absurd that feels. In today's issue of the Concord Monitor, I counted two jobs for employment, two babysitting jobs at day care centers. What a long way we still have to go to get back to good times, and yet, it could be worse. The interesting thing is that the people complaining the loudest, apparently, are the very rich, as noted in Paul Krugman's opinion piece in the NY Times. I still can't get over the vehemence of the conservatives who, in the name of fiscal responsibility were asleep at the switch during the Bush years -- as we squandered the nation's surplus built up during the Clinton era 90's. And now they are oh so angry as Obama tries to implement the long feared communist takeover of America. How dare he enact health care for the sake of 40 million uninsured Americans. Bush's lies about WMD, well, never mind those. The redness of their faces, according to Krugman, is due as much to good living and overindulgence as to genuine anger.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Monk, the Philosopher, and the Tea Party

My daughters love going to the dump, or the "transfer station" as we call it. Ever since the town put up a swap shop where people bring goods they no longer use for others who might find a use for them, it's become an adventure for them. They never come away empty handed, and their bedroom is brimming with stuffed animals that have taken on a communal life, a virtual world, that is sometimes more compelling for them, it seems, than the ordinary and humdrum goings on in the house. I picked up a book there, The Monk and the Philosopher, that I started reading. It's a conversation between a renowned French scientist, Jean-Francois Revel, and his Buddhist monk son, Mathieu Ricard, a stream of consciousness ramble through the foundations of Western philosophy and Eastern mysticism and the roots of human consciousness from diverging points of view. Although I only started it, it got me thinking about the popularity of Buddhism, especially for young progressive folks like myself disenchanted with traditional values and lifestyles and the mess we're in as a society. The problem I see with it is that as a religion it espouses a liberation from the material world that can seem selfish and uncaring, an escape into a personal space of enlightened peace, no doubt, but sterile. This generational yearning for escape from the madness of modernity might also help with a problem that's been bugging me for many years: how to explain the dominance of right wing bigots and ignoramuses in our national politics, as evidenced nowadays by the coming Tea Party tsunami that the press has done its best to fabricate and help along. It doesn't surprise me that people in backwards nations of the world can be manipulated into supporting their would be oppressors under the guise of national pride or ethnic superiority or whatever, but that here in the United States we are going to place back in the position of power the party which just oversaw an era of unprecedented corruption and erosion of our economic, social and moral fabric, resulting in an economic crash it will take maybe a generation to dig out of, because they stand up for the ideology of Ayn Rand? What kind of world is this? I can understand the frustration with business as usual in Washington. And I even like some of the Tea Party ideas. A sales tax to replace income tax? Why not? But so many of them are just the type of scary followers, believing in any lie that supports their bigoted, angry world view, that put the Nazis in the driver's seat in Germany. I'm not equating the Tea Party with the Nazis, I'm just saying many of their supporters aren't too discerning. What's this have to do with Buddhism? Well, it's the absence of any countervailing progressive populist movement. I think too many of us are walking away from the fight just when it's heating up with the attitude of what's the worst that can happen, we get gridlock for another six years and the Republicans set up committees to investigate Obama's ties to Islam and Michelle's trips to Spain. Ho hum. Maybe I'll light a candle and meditate and it will all go away.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Freedom Falling

Labor Day weekend -- the last stretch of free days before the fall comes down with its head-long plunge into the long hours of work, the busy weekends of soccer, the preparatory chores for the cold season. We are lucky and grateful for labor rights and union rights. So many countries lack those basic rights and freedoms, such as the right to form unions, which form the backbone of our middle class way of life.

Today I woke late, catching up on sleep after the first week back at school and the typical insomnia that accompanies all the excitement and energy of dealing with classrooms of eager and edgy adolescents. The sky is bright blue with the cool of autumn in the wet grass left behind in the wake of the tropical storm that just blew up the coast. A lamb escaped through a downed fence, and Drew Major, our local Fish and Wildlife officer, parked in our driveway to try to get him back. Susan interrupted me as I was about to sit down with my coffee in front of the computer to go help him. Here goes, I thought, reflecting on the madness impinging on my free time. Afterwards, she had me hitch up the trailer and drive with her around the loop to the Russells, who live on the land first homesteaded by the original Connor family, up on the edge of the Mink Hills protected area. They were having a yard sale, and the two kids sitting in the grass brought out the tables and whatnot that Susan had bought. As she wrote the check, I talked with Mr. Russell about the Troy Bilt Rototiller that his wife Margaret's father first used back in the 1930s.

I'm lucky to have a job, given the economic situation facing many around the country. By all accounts it looks like we are facing years of structural weakness in the job market. Robert Reich has an informative piece in the NY Times explaining the predicament facing the American middle class. As opposed to the 1930s with FDR, I don't think the country is ready for a massive retooling, the kind it would take to turn us around. And the sort of ideas Reich proposes in his piece, tax breaks and incentives to increase middle class purchasing power, are not going to do the trick either. Instead I think we are turning inward, especially if the Republicans win back control of Congress, and we will have a locally driven resurgence based on small business, family business and local innovation despite, not because of the government and its relative powerlessness in this globalized and technology-driven economy. I used to think Obama could pull off an FDR style project of renovation, but it looks increasingly likely we are facing a rerun of the Clinton era of governmental gridlock. Thank you Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, who, to steal a line from a fellow blogger, is so stupid she couldn't pour piss out of a boot if there were directions on the heel.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Last Day of Summer

The first day of school and the first early morning after a long summer brings a new season, a new year. The rain breaking all day wanted to wash away the sleepy dust from the roads. Susan has her first day with grades 2-8 Spanish. Now there are two Spanish teachers in the house. Everybody's taking it in stride, but I was alone in the house working on my doors while it rained. I start my first day tomorrow. I got the second door's frame mortises finished and rebates for paneling cut and now it's ready for glueing and clamping. The first door looks good, with oak frames and 1/4 inch diagonal pine paneling. I listened to Pandora while I worked, my own station playing Candyman. Yes it was the last day of summer. Afterward, on Dianne Rehm, I listened while a panel discussed A Room With a View, which made me think of going back to work, where I look out on the meeting of two sides of a brick building where the wind sometimes catches debris in a little swirl of current.

Come all you pretty women with your hair a-hanging down
Open up your windows, 'cause the Candyman's in town
Come on boys and gamble
Roll those laughing bones
Seven come eleven, boys, I'll take your money home

Look out, look out, the Candyman
Here he comes and he's gone again
Pretty lady ain't got no friend
Till the Candyman comes around again

I come in from Memphis where I leant to talk the jive
When I get back to Memphis, be one less man alive
Good morning, Mister Benson
I see you're doing well
If I had me a shotgun, I'd blow you straight to hell

Come on boys and wager, if you have got the mind
If you've got a dollar, boys, lay it on the line
Hand me my old guitar
Pass the whiskey round
Won't you tell everybody you meet that the Candyman's in town

Look out, look out, the Candyman
Here he come and he's gone again

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

August -- Body Surfing

With the summer drawing to a close, these last family days together are like the fruit of the season, ripening nicely. The Atlantic water was 67 degrees, still bone chilling, but we stayed in for twenty minutes at a stretch, catching some nice bodysurfing waves, maybe 4.5 feet with the tide coming in at Wallis Sands. There's something exhilirating and refreshing about the ocean water, even when your teeth are chattering you feel like it is high adventure to be out there diving through the breakers, and the last thing on your mind is the summer drawing to a close and all the things you might have done, should have could have done. When time stops for you, that's the definition of feeling young. At the top of one curling wave, Michael and I were side by side, swimming to get out ahead, and as it broke, it sent us down with a clap into the sand. When we shot back up we both had ear to ear grins. As far as I'm concerned it's better than any water park.

That's our president body surfing on a Hawaiian vacation above. If I'm jealous, does that mean he's an elitist? Yes, of course it does. But you know what? I like a president who can body surf. That's a first for this country. It means he's in touch with things deeper than any polling could tap into. His position on the Ground Zero mosque has got him wading into the buzzsaw of class and race and religion and he's just riding through it like you would want your president to do. Hats off once again brother Barack, is all I can say. Just light the fuse and let the bigots blow themselves up with the hot air while you turn to the horizon, looking for the next set.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Three Stories

We do live in times of great change. We are responsible for bearing witness, for staying awake and alert to the great heroism displayed in the course of the fight. In the light of that charge, here are three noteworthy characters, moved by a common impulse to defend their honor and highest ideals. Their stories display what I would call the invisible hand of altruism, proof to me that we are not just material beings motivated by self-interest alone.
Pfc. Bradley Manning is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, charged by the military with passing secrets critical to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel. Most famously, the website Wikileaks posted Mannings files directly to the Internet, including an onboard military video of the helicopter strike in Baghdad in 2007 when soldiers heedlessly gunned down civilians, among them two Reuters employees. Although President Obama rightly noted that nothing in the files was a totally new revelation, it is Manning's impulse, nonetheless, to disclose the full brunt of the hypocrisy that passes for our country's notional effort at self-defense that should interest us. Branded a traitor for his efforts, and facing a life-sentence, if not execution in the military courts, Manning acted out of an impulse for truth telling honed by his years as a non-conformist growing up in Oklahoma and Wales. Think what you want of him, you have to admire the soldier who wears a customized dogtag of "humanist". That's clear thinking in a world gone mad.
Lt. Col. Terence Lakin, is an army doctor with a distinguished educational and military record, including six tours of duty in our country's South Asian and Middle Eastern battles, who now faces court martial for refusing orders based on his lack of confidence in Obama's status as a natural born citizen. Here is a man clearly not just a right wing nut, but someone who genuinely feels dismayed to the point of rebellion at what he perceives as the duplicity of a President who has failed to produce a document. To most of us, it is pretty clear that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii, not in Kenya, but Lakin, now the hero to the millions of Americans of the "birther" persuasion, wants the proof of the original birth document, which the state of Hawaii does not routinely provide. So the country now is looking at the court martial of an officer two grades below general, with 17 years of tremendous service and expertise, refusing to deploy and facing dishonorable discharge and up to two years in the brig, out of principle. I call him misguided, but millions would not. I have no doubts, however, that Lakin's rebellion would not have happened if the war effort were moving in a positive direction instead of being Obama's flush down the toilet of Bush's mess.
Anne Rice is a novelist best known for her gothic New Orleans vampire novels, the forerunners of this season's trendy vampiretas. She grew up a Catholic, became an atheist in her fashionable beatnik years and some years ago rejoined the Church. This week she announced she was "quitting Christianity, for Christ's sake." Unable to fathom the dictates of organized Christianity, including calls to reject abortion, gay rights, and a female clergy, Rice decided her disappointment was just too much to bear and went walkabout.
This is undoubtedly a complicated and personal decision. However, it leaves me with a feeling of anger. To me it is akin to saying "sorry, Jesus, dude. That cross is getting a little heavy. You're on your own." Yes, the Church is deeply flawed and this Pope is a man with questionable impulses, as was John Paul, in terms of bringing us into a truly enlightened communion. But you either believe we are the body of Christ or you're just intoxicated by the candle smoke and statuettes.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Change, the Greatest Show in Town

It's the best show in town, every 11 years, according to the scientists. As a result of the sun shooting off its plasma into space in our direction, causing ionized gases, I believe, to arc around the magnetic poles, we get these strange science fiction effects of the aurora borealis, or Northern lights tonight. They should occur as a greenish or reddish glow on the horizon, if the clouds dissipate from the muggy weather we've been getting. In ancient times, they say the Inuit and Laplanders encouraged their children to behave during these appearances, and one pictures the mischievous bands carousing by the eery glow suddenly growing quiet and reverent.

These cyclical celestial events always make me think we know less about how our lives intersect with the physical universe than we like to admit. From our limited perspective, not even death and taxes are certain; the first is so unpredictable we can't even think about it, and the second is subject to the whims of politicians, almost as weird as the aurora, and a lot more unstable. No, the only thing that's a constant presence in our lives and therefore as imperceptible as water must be to fish, is change. We all know what it's like to have a mental picture of ourselves at a certain age and be shocked by the image in the mirror that greets us at those unholy early morning junctures. Blake said eternity is in love with the productions of time. Well it works the other way also; as mortals; we yearn for some stability, and all of nature seems to be the same. Look at the oak leaves clinging to the branches through the fall and winter, refusing to take their place on the forest floor.

There are some days, though, that seem prone to the ground shaking, and this is one. Susan just got a job offer this morning teaching part time at a middle school in Chichester. For the last twelve years she has been a stay-at-home Mom. The times they are a changin', for sure. The kids are happy for her, but Eve, the peasant soul of the bunch, wondered to me if she would have to come home to an empty house. We will bend over backwards to make sure that doesn't happen, because that's what we do.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Pleasures and Pains of Sweat Equity

This should be a nice moment. The evening before the concrete is poured. All the excavation's done, all the leveling. In the morning the truck comes in and pours 3.5 cubic meters of the good stuff and then we'll level and trowel off. The columns will be barn board and clapboards and maybe someday if we sell up, bored and miserable with our lives, we'll slap on the fake cement asbestos look alike to match the original 1950s asbestos siding which is like apocalypse proof. The doors I'm looking forward to. They'll be 3 foot each, hand mortised and tenoned and paneled patio doors meeting in the middle. And then I can dream about which boat to build.

A book my wife checked out from the library for me sums up the experience rather rosily and eloquently.
"The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does because he has no real effect in the world. But the tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgement of reality, where one's failures and shortcomings cannot be interpreted away. His well-founded pride is far from the gratuitous 'self-esteem' that educators would impart to students as though by magic."

Shop Class as Soulcraft; An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Mathew B. Crawford.

So of course this is not boasting. And I didn't just spend the entire afternoon trying to get my Husqvarna commercial walk behind mower to run. I ended up disassembling the deck from the engine so I could carry it uphill to the trailer to take it in to the shop. Nothing quiet and easy about me now. I'm ready for a beer and a shower and am prone to feelings of self-pity.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

If Trees Voted

The Senate gave up on efforts to pass a comprehensive energy bill designed to begin a switch away from fossil fuels today, leading me and surely even the eternally optimistic Tom Friedman to question again whether our democracy is equipped to meet 21st century global challenges. The Democrats were not able to muster enough votes to move the bill to the floor, fearing Republicans would point to the measure in the upcoming midterm elections as proof of insensitivity to the needs of ordinary Americans.

Once again, the complexities of the issue have been reduced to the short term dictates of the power game in Washington, and the logic of sustainability and the long term interests of our country have not been able to pierce the miasma of misinformation, rapacious greed and sheer shortsightedness promoted by the Republican party. The situation is untenable, but a strange solace is that it hasn't changed in over a decade, since the Clinton/Gore administration first floated the idea of a BTU tax, which in its elegance and its reliance on basic market forces to do the heavy lifting of engineering us away from carbon poisoning the atmosphere even outdid the idea of a cap and trade system.

The meekness and timidity of the Democrats, reneging on a central plank of the Obama campaign, cannot be excused. It will hurt them in the fall as environmentalists and even uninitiated voters who would have been impressed by basic gumption and a stand on principle will now fail to be motivated to support the vote counters who could not see beyond their plush offices.

What now? One of the faults of this polarized, largely blind populace is a lack of organization and education on this direly important topic. Entire doctoral theses have probably been written, (and if they haven't, here's a good idea for somebody) on why the Europeans are so far ahead of us in supporting the idea of controlling the amount of carbon we are dumping in the air by becoming more energy efficient and switching away from fossil fuels as soon as we can. But having lived in Europe, I can tell you that one difference is a wide-spread, diverse and loud non-profit sector, an organized citizenry, that has banged the drum on climate change and global warming from villages and cities across the Old World for many years. We have nothing like that here, but there is one new group, that is impressive in its energy and the wealth of interesting campaign ideas they are putting out there. Things like trying to get solar panels installed in the White House might seem like small potatoes, but it is from these beginnings that a critical mass of support for positive change might finally come.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Water and Oil

Last night the rain finally broke after a few long weeks of hot, dry weather. I slept well, listening to the water in the trees and gurgling down the gutter. When I look at the radar map on the weather site, it's like watching magic, the way the green clouds pop up along the ridge of the Green mountains, or in the Tennessee valley, and drift, turn yellow and thunderous, and then disappear, only to reappear again a hundred miles away. You have to wonder at the awesomely random logic that drives the system. We were up in the Whites hiking on our 20th wedding anniversary this week, and to see the power of the water as it comes out of the Franconia Notch at the height of the dry spell, the white, glacially cold water swirling deep into the carved basins or pounding in the cascades off the mountains, made me wonder at the brilliance and generosity of the planet's basic functionality. That's what water does in the summer, it softens any pessimism, renews our sense that life goes on.

Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil continues to gush, a reminder of the insanity of this post-industrial, consumer-driven, resource ravaging way we conduct ourselves. Blame goes all around of course. Anger is gushing as well, and there seems no way Obama can get on top of it, or ahead of any curves on the polls. It's like dealing with children, a family that lets important decisions get made on the basis of the wishes of the youngest, most irresponsible, whimsical of its members, having our political future hang in the balance of polls where the questions asked test our tolerance of stupidity, like "do you think Obama's economic policies are helping you personally?"

So while our politics continue to be mired in the sometimes infantile and counter-productive habits of our messy democratic institutions, in the technological realm our scientists are trying to mimic the habits of nature in order to move into a post-carbon future. Renewable energy, intelligent grids will rely on smart technology to tie consumers and producers together into a decentralized, amorphous system that will look very much like the radar screen image of the rain, popping up and disappearing in some random, higher logic that ultimately benefits everyone.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Deer Fly Season

(Editor's note: After a couple of weeks of computer problems, I'm back up again. Sorry about that.)

There's been no rain for a couple of weeks. The heat is beginning to melt away the
lakes, and the rivers and streams are lying low, black puddles of stillness waiting for the regenerating downpour coming this weekend, according to the forecasts. In the garden, it's beginning to look like late summer, potatoes withering under an early blight, the fault of escapees from last year's crop spreading it. Raspberries have been a bumper crop, and peas have come and mostly gone. It's deer fly season. Tomatoes and corn coming on strong. Garlic is good; apparently Jink agrees.

We went camping up to Lake Umbagog for a few days. It was windy and cold. On the last morning, on the paddle back to the state park where the car was parked, we were visited by a pair of bald eagles, who swooped overhead, checking us out.

My summer building project. I've sold it as a mud room/walk out basement utility room, but really it's going to be the boat building shed. On the right is the sheep barn. Above is the kitchen. The underside of the kitchen floor is slab polystyrene insulation, last year's weatherization thing. You can just make it out. The bottom of the last post, (there were three others) was cut out and it sprang true after probably decades of misalignment. There was never any foundation, and the bottom sill resting on some rocks on the ground got pushed in by runoff, snow melt and fill material coming off the stone retaining wall which I am excited about digging out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Go USA Soccer

We've got a team once again that's doing us proud, a rerun of the Miracle on Ice in the '86 Olympics with the underdog US hockey team.

This summer there's so much going wrong out there you could call it the nadir of our oil-soaked 20th century way of life, but the US national soccer team is a little corner of optimism and hope, with its nail-biting, gut wrenching, never-say-die run to the quarterfinal round. The team has astounded pundits all over the world, and made a once marginal sport central to millions of lives, at least for a few magic hours. I was watching a live stream, listening to the Argentinian announcers belittle the Yanks at half time with typical Southern Cone arrogance, saying they had no finishers, no style, openly rooting for the Algerians. By the end of the game they had changed their tune and were parroting the line about all the youth soccer participants in the US and acknowledging the team has some panache in the person of Landon Donovan, who did what every soccer coach in America tells their players, follow your pass, support, and finish hard, to put the US up in the final seconds of the game.

It's obvious that this is a game that is more than just a game. At play are our notions of national character and moral fiber. Like all sports, it allows us a morality play of good and evil, simple truths yes, but we live by them whether we like to admit it or not. It is stupid to make more of it than this, and I'm already done with the bleating from media commentators about American values displayed in the three games so far, and can't help thinking what would they be writing if the ball had hit the post instead. Would our character be any worse for a missed shot?

Still, it's good to see hard work and grit pay off , especially after hearing for so many years that American soccer has no beauty, no style, and how we need to adopt more of the beautiful passing game of the Spaniards or Brazilians. Here's a shout out for hustle and team-work American style.

Even better that the likes of Glenn Beck said recently how he hates soccer because it's not American. Once again the far right is waking up on the wrong side of the bed. How is Landon Donovan, the soft-spoken, polite, humble hero of this team, not American?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mary's Run

This morning was the last of Mary's Run, the 5k race held every year in our town to commemorate the early death of a young girl from cancer. This was the eighth edition of the race, and the last, as the scholarship fund set up with the proceeds, to benefit graduating seniors, has enough money to run into the foreseeable future.

It was pouring with rain as we gathered in the community school gym, three hundred or so of us, and then exited for the final instructions out on the road before the gun sounded and off we sped. It was a slow pace this year, no serious rabbits in the bunch. Still, the winning time was a respectable 17 minutes. I always like beating a few of the high school kids and then joking with the people manning the final chute about the location of the ambulance. "Right around the corner," they always say. "Keep on going."

My daughter asked me before the race what you get if you win. "A gold medal?" she asked. Then the older one said, "Yeah, but it's not real gold." Then why do it, they wondered, much more pragmatic in their wise young years than I, ostensibly the adult in the bunch.

I do it for the fun, supposedly, and it supports a good cause. And it makes me feel young. That's the important point, I think. The road race has become a continuation of communal rituals, like Morris dancing or religious parades, that used to make people feel part of something larger than themselves, something alive. We justify it as some sort of self-realization, bettering our performances measured in minutes and seconds, but it's got to be more than that individual goal. There's got to be something social going on that makes us come out in a rain and run around the town roads in a pack of heaving, sweating bodies.

It's especially fitting that these events commemorate someone young, whose death is not allowed to mark some absurd injustice but instead becomes a rallying point for health and wealth, the real kind that makes a place liveable and not just a random collection of shops and houses. I hope someone finds another cause to take Mary's place and we can have a race again.

(Photo by Kathryn Hayes, The Villager)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Key Moment

The reports out of the Gulf are conflicting. BP succeeded in sealing the well or they didn't. It's about as clear as the video feed of the gusher a mile down in the steamy waters. When I worked on the shrimp boat, the Trey B, we used to dive off the bridge in the morning to wash the stink of the night work and the rotting off and see the schools of fish coming up from the deep blue and then fishing for ling which was about as easy as I've ever fished for anything. I don't like to read the news reports of the oil spill because it's too depressing. It reminds me of the sinking feeling I used to get when reading of the Exxon Valdez. That sent my wife and I up to Scotland on a two week vacation from our jobs in London to find a way to get back some balance in our lives. We stayed at a place called Erraid which was allied with the Findhorn community. That Exxon Valdez spill was the beginning of a cultural shift which revived the environmental movement for a time in the early nineties. This accident will have the same effect on our consciousness. If the Democrats can go on the offensive and use this midterm election as a referendum on laissez faire capitalism it would be good. Push the people who believe America was built for the get rich quick scheme into a corner. Or to paraphrase a bumper sticker that quotes Sarah Palin I've seen around town. "How's that deregulatory, no government thing working out for ya?" It couldn't be clearer than the black gunk washing up onto the Gulf coast's beaches.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Stain on Us All

Reading Psalm 104 tonight:

"How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious..."

Nobody knows the purpose of creation, but the joy and exuberance of it are hinted at in the words of this song of praise. All of us must be feeling shame at what's happening tonight in the Gulf of Mexico. A month now, and the oil continues to gush from the well a mile below the surface, now the New York Times is saying at a rate far greater than originally estimated, hundreds of thousands of gallons a day, collecting in thick vertical plumes below the surface, sucking the oxygen out of the water and creating vast dead zones.

I worked after college on a Gulf shrimp boat out of Galveston. I remember the nets coming up out of the water bulging with sea life scraped from the sea bed. I thought that was rape, but this beggars the imagination. Drill, baby, drill. Yeah, right. Think again on that one maybe. It's only fair that this should happen in our waters as we suck up 25 percent of the world's fossil fuels to run everything we do. Even the food we eat is oil. I hope Kerry is able to ram home the climate change bill through the Senate, given the timing. We need to begin to shift now away from fossil fuel dependency. Everything is linked to that, even our soaring health care costs on the back of the obesity epidemic, fed by corn syrup which is again, oil. Junk in, junk out. And the GDP reflects expenditures that are really the death throes of a culture that is only now beginning to realize the extremity of the situation. And there's Rush saying that it's only natural, what's to worry about a few slicked bird feathers.

The brain dead, too, have their place, I suppose, but I'll admit if it had been my creation I would have left the Limbaughs of this world and their followers on the drafting floor.

Photo by Associated Press (Dave Martin)

Monday, May 10, 2010

This is the Day as the Grass has Made

We're into the deeper green of a well-watered spring now. The grass is growing inches a day and the sheep are down in the lower field. They can hardly keep up with the rotation. It's taken me a good amount of time to get the mower going. I use it around the house and the blueberries. It's a real work horse, but the ethanol in gasoline gunks it up, and it takes awhile to get the kinks out in the spring. I still need to look at the manual and see what needs to be tightened to improve the traction of the wheels. The engine is working fine now, but there is a belt loose running to the wheels. On the apple front, have finally figured out this year the little pest that wreaks havoc right at petal fall, the tarnished plant bug it's called, and I finally identified the tell-tale browning at the midrib of the leaves and frizzling of the flower buds. One spray of pyrethrum and it looks like it's taken care of. I can take a look at my first Northern Spy. If if it gives off a healthy vibration from the back door I know things are good. Today I gave the trees with substantial blossoms a spray of Surround, which is a fine clay that coats the fruit buds to protect against plum curculio. The curculio lays eggs in the small fruitlets and it has been a problem these last few years. The Surround spray is the only organic option, and it has been only partially effective, due I think to the small numbers of fruit bearing trees we have so far. This year we have double the number, which should reduce the pest pressure. Also I am leaving a trap tree unsprayed to see if that works.
There is no question that apples are a labor intensive crop in this part of the world. In the old days, they used to handle curculio, all hands on deck, going out at dawn and placing a sheet around a tree, then thumping it with a club hammer. The vibrations would send the bug to ground, where they could be rolled up and dispensed with before moving on to the next tree in the row. That might be us if the Surround doesn't fly and I can convince the kids that bushels of apples are worth getting up early for.
But forget the musings on future harvests. The fresh faced trees and the bright sun and cool days, the promise of renewal and future bliss, this is the best of New England -- aside from the bounty of falling leaves in the fall.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Sense of Modicum and Decorum Out of Whack

I just got the hospital bill for the splinter in my foot I blogged about a couple of posts ago. A few bills short of $2,000, and they didn't even get it out. You would think there would be some sense of professional shame attached to the issuing of such a bill, but there wasn't. To recap, I stepped on something while digging in the garden a couple of weekends ago, and, unable to get it out myself, I went to the emergency room of Concord Hospital, where a female doctor on duty went to work, first injecting the bottom of my foot with some anesthetic. After about a half an hour of labor with knives and other apparatus and more injections of anesthetic, she pronounced the splinter unfindable. Another doctor, a higher up, was called in and he took a look, probed with his fingers around the wound, and said there was nothing else to be done and advised me to "soak your foot in soapy water and take these antibiotics." I hobbled home, worse off then when I'd arrived. I assume that this advice was the part of the bill itemized under "professional services" - $800. I understand the economics of health care are out of control, but more fundamentally, can I say the word ripoff and get some nods of agreement out there in the virtual world?
Obviously, the fact that the insurance company picks up the tab for all but $50 worth of this mockery of a sham, to paraphrase Woody Allen, is the crux of the problem. If I had to pay it all myself, I can easily assure you there would be some pain coming back at somebody in the administration of said hospital. But, indulge me in some larger ramblings about what this all means.
We've gotten way too greedy, people!!! This is like Wall Street, where Goldman Sachs used to be a respectable company helping clients handle their investments before falling prey to the machinations and money lusts of traders like Fabrice Tourre, or like a whole nation of Tea Partiers out there who don't want to pay taxes but don't mind going to war in different parts of of the planet to secure their comfortable existences and "way of life." We talk about this bubble, or that bubble, and assume they come and go and eventually we settle into some economic semblance of reality, but really, we all live in the bubble of expectations called the American dream where everyone gets rich and if you don't there's some flaw in your character. I blame it on the Puritans. We are a nation of pigs suffering under the delusion that it's healthy to be so. Our sense of modicum and decorum is all out of whack. With these trials of the Goldman Sachs people, I will admit, I am asking myself: Is this where we get out the pitchforks?
To those wondering, the splinter did come out on its own about ten days later, after my wife went on line and discovered the home remedy of soaking in hot water, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. One afternoon I pushed and out it popped, almost a quarter inch of pine. I wonder if I could sell it on Ebay.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Tragic Nature of Spring

It's spring and there's lots to do fixing up the place. We had nine lambs, three died. You don't associate spring with tragedy in the popular imagination, but it's there just like the daffodils along the road. Two were born so weak to Bully's daughter, she tends to shy away from the feeding troughs with the grain. This year she had twins for the first time. But they couldn't stand despite her best coaxing. They walked around on their forelegs bleating for a day or two and finally succumbed. In the past we've bottle fed and run around in emergency mode. But this year, for some reason fatalism took over. This year death won an easy battle in the spring, a gimme in essence, but we have nine beautiful lambs and they frisk and play, they really do, skipping and jumping with the seasonal exuberance, the joy of being alive that puts us older ones to looking on with envy and thinking we could keep up, if only.
Went down to Boston for my nephew Nic's graduation party. He had the college kids over to his mother and stepfather's apartment in Cambridge, a beautiful place, but that's the subject of some other post. It was nice and intergenerational. Argued with my sis over whether the French were right to ban burkas on Muslim women in public places. That's the kind of family gatherings we have, a combination of high minded civic concern and ornery, alcohol infused in your face argumentation. The college kids were looking on and laughing, so in a sense we had the seasonal advantage on that night. Nothing like a little wine and the verbosity loosens up like a New England river in flood stage. Nic, the graduate, is taking a bicycle trip down the West coast, from Vancouver to San Diego. I advised him to keep going, spend some time in Baja, some unstructured end of the road time. He's figuring out where to go, what to do. It's a crucial, under-estimated time of life, post college, no fixed plans, no fixed abode. His girlfriend wants to get married. She's great, we all love her. She made a raspberry trifle for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago that stole the show. But is he ready for married? Is the timing right, and has he spent enough time at the feeding trough of his youth, because if he hasn't, then he could be spending the rest of his days on his knees, not quite getting to the udder. That would be a tragedy of a false spring.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Personal Rant Against Misfortune

This is a personal rant. I'm tired of going after the big issues of the day. Yeah, it makes me feel better, but what good does it do? I'm not kidding myself. I worked as a reporter for ten years and the world went on after I quit. All of this is like the waves hitting at rocks. Like quantum physics, inexplicable, thought transference through some undiscovered medium, hoping that some current of thought will be picked up and like magic impact multitudes. Like prayer, this blogging depends on faith and discipline and ultimately its effect on anything but the mind of the perpetrator is on shaky ground.
Okay, I stepped on something in the garden while digging potato beds last weekend. I got a splinter in my foot which resisted my best effort with needle and tweezer. Saturday night I went to the emergency room. The doctor laid me stomach down on the bed and injected painkiller into the sole of my foot. That was the most painful thing I'd experienced since root canals. Then she proceeded to slice away, trying to get at the troublesome object lodged at the base of the punture wound. When the nurse came in and commented on the amount of blood getting on the floor, I knew it was trouble. I bit the pillow a couple of times with the painkiller and the knife slicing away. They never found the splinter, left me sitting on the bed with paper towels to stanch the bleeding, then sent me home with a prescription for antibiotics, saying I would probably get an infection. I resisted for a few day, but the swelling and limping didn't go away. I've been on the pills for a couple of days now and it's getting better, thank you, but oh so slowly.
The world sucks when you are infirm. I can't think what it could be like to be truly incapacitated. There was a girl two days ago I had to escort from class to the front office and back again while I was on hall duty. Her name is Brittany and she has twisted legs, all out of whack, and crutches that she carries supported at the wrists that she uses like an insect's feelers while she lurches unsteadily on the legs that look like they were bent on a rack. She was sweet and game even though I walked her down the stairs by mistake instead of taking the elevator. She told me every day coming to school is like going to the place with fire and pointed with her crutch at the ground. I know most teenagers feel that way, and her bright uplifted face told everything you wanted to know about heart, but what a struggle every day. And for us relatively able people, a splinter in the foot blackens everything until it clears up. That's how fragile well being can be.
Tomorrow I am going to a memorial service for the wife of a man who teaches at our school. She died recently, and he's been bearing up well. The support of colleagues and friends has been lightening his load. I would have to quit. It wouldn't be enough for me. Maybe I am bipolar in that regard: when I am well I am reaching for the stars, and setbacks send me plunging through the black hole. Maybe not, maybe I'm over those days. But look at what a splinter did. A tear in the heart would put me in the breakdown lane.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Faith is a Bird

"Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark" Rabindranath Tagore.

A thought for those dismayed by the sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic church. It is so shocking and gives rise to such primal feelings of anger at the perpetrators that a sane response is to push it out of mind, but that is the wrong response. We don't like to dwell on the incomprehensible, and evil fits in that category of things that make no sense. In fact that might be one of the defining characteristics of pure evil, but I'm not sure. Certainly the behavior of church authorities through the years, as Maureen Dowd put it in her column, "the sordid culture of men defending men who prey on children," makes it clear that true faith means jettisoning the idea that the hierarchy are in any way infallible. This is a moment in the world when the status quo is crumbling, whether it be the conservative consensus against the role of government in the United States, or the final waning of any moral influence of the Church in western Europe, and in the wake of creative destruction comes the opportunity for progress. Until there is a reckoning with the Church's position on women in the priesthood and in the laity, there can be no healing. Perhaps it will take a tidal wave of a crisis, as this seems to be, to finally push the Catholic church to embrace reforms.

On a similar note, my son was reading Douglas Adams and I was inspired to look into Adam's atheism and ways to counter atheist criticisms of religious faith. My own instincts, and what little reading I've done, tell me that much of atheist reasoning is superficial and simplistic, but I came across this blog post of Edward Feser's that does a good job of spelling out more intellectually rigorous grounds on which to show that writers like Adams and mentors like Richard Dawkins do a shoddy job of deconstructing faith.

Spring is pushing ahead irregardless of cultural wars. We've been digging in the garden for ten years now. Our first year we dug out the sod from the beds and amended with cow manure from the barn across the road that was still standing. That was hard work. Now the soil is like butter and the pile of sheep manure, with frozen clumps still in it, gets wheelbarrowed from the bottom of the garden, a little more convenient than that first year pioneering, or repioneering, if that is a word, because the Connors were first on this land in the mid 1700s.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reseeding the Commons

It's a new day. We are living in a country born again. All of us who voted for Obama in the expectation of sweeping change are finally getting a sip of the long expected cup of victory. The dragon of neo-liberal social and economic ideology had held sway for so long in the decades since Reagan promised that greed would set us free, that many thought it was the stagnant default setting of the American republic. That assumption has been set on its head, and the fierceness of anti-democratic, racist, bullying resistance to the health care reform legislation belies the sea change that has taken place in the space of a few days.

As Obama said, this was about doing what was right, not what was cynically expedient. Yes, the Democrats were up against the wall and strategically it was either sink or swim. But Obama proved he had the correct instincts and fought back and won. For once our leaders are acting the part and making us truly stand taller in the eyes of the world. Does anyone doubt the strategic importance of this week when it comes to battling real enemies convinced we are incapable of ever getting it right? If we can take care of our own here, and continue to stand up for the needy elsewhere, eg. Haiti, Palestine, etc., we will take the momentum back on the world stage that was lost when George Bush strutted the White House grounds.
Many would be critics of the package have pointed to concerns about our mounting deficit, despite projections of cost effectiveness over the long term. The fact is our economy has been tanking for many years, and one of the things that hobbles our businesses in competition with the rest of the world is a health care system that has been left entirely up to the private sector. This Obamacare reform may be the promised first plank in a restructuring of the American economy that will position us for continued leadership in the 21st century.

What is the next heavy lift? Many are pointing to immigration reform, and the fact that the Democrats will want to lock in the Latino vote before the mid-term elections. I think that Obama will take the high road and stick to his election pledges. Tackling climate change, packaged as a drive for energy independence, has the additional holistic advantage of being also about economic positioning and renovation. But there's no doubt the trenches are being dug. According to a U.S. News and World Report story, the Chamber of Commerce has lobbyists fanning out across the country speaking in motels and anywhere they can get an audience, giving the business spin on global warming -- it doesn't exist -- and the outlook for change from the perspective of Exxon Mobil-- cap and trade is a drag on growth. Why isn't there a similar grass roots campaign on behalf of meeting our responsibilities under Obama's Copenhagen pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 17 percent by 2012? When it comes to the likely suspects, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, etc. up against the corporate lobby, it's worse than David vs. Goliath, because at least David was fighting fit and had the advantage of surprise on his side. The national environmental groups are part of the Beltway establishment and have little to no ability to mobilize grass roots support on climate change. We need to take up John Kerry's idea of national community service as a requirement akin to the military draft. Then we'd have an army of Americorps volunteers fanning out across the country to work for volunteer groups, non-profits, schools and municipalities, and the public good might stand a chance against the ideology that says that what's good for business and the bottom line is the only reality that counts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

They Paved Paradise

At our annual town meeting Saturday, the towns people present voted in favor of letting the quarry put in a road to haul rock from their new site over to the old rock crusher through a town-owned lot that will be sold to them in a sweetheart deal. The lot is home to a tributary brook of the Contoocook river, a pristine stretch of water that borders on the Mink Hills protected area. But the family owned company, which also owns the ski resort that is the town's largest employer, packed the hall. They are good people, live here in town, and the new road did have its selling points. What was impressive, however, was the numbers of people they got out to the meeting. The mood was mean, with one large, hulking angry man at one point striding to the microphone demanding to know which of the selectmen were in favor of the warrant article that was seeking to put the lot into a conservation easement, thus preventing the sale and the new road. Apparently he hadn't seen the town warrant which said the article had been placed by petition. But the vote wasn't even close. It was a sweep for the quarry and for people who felt that what is good for this family's business is good for the town. In this economic climate there was no room for the opposing arguments in favor of the recreational and ecological value of keeping the land undeveloped.
A little bit of uplifting perspective is that there is plenty of open land around us. As one guy said at the meeting referring to 40 percent of the town, "You can take your dog anywhere and it can poop wherever it wants," and this is largely true. So I am not feeling totally defeated by this outcome.
The meeting itself lasted for nine hours. I had to present one of the articles as chairman of the town energy committee, asking for a positive vote in order for the town to expend the funds we received as part of a federal grant to do energy audits on the town's municipal buildings. I thought the Tea Party tone of the gathering might mean some hue and outcry at accepting the aid from Uncle Sam, and there was some grumbling as I left the microphone behind, but the article passed, thankfully.
Many of the towns in the southern third of the state have left the old town meetings behind, opting for a new system that allows people to vote for town warrants without having to attend a meeting. It is more convenient, but less conducive to feelings of community. There is something to be said for seeing much of the town's personalities, the good, the bad, and at Saturday's meeting, some of the ugly, all together in one place, at least once a year, conducting the messy process of democracy in all its amateur glory.
(Concord Monitor Photo/Katie Barnes)